Nestled on the southern shore of Victoria Island and centered among eight terrestrial eco-regions, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut will play an important role in the future of northern research. In 2017, the small community of just over 1,000 will become home to the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS).
As federal funding shifts from some existing facilities, CHARS, which was given the green light for development in 2007, represents a significant investment in Arctic research by the government.
In August 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the commitment of over $142 million for the new research station, plus an additional $46 million over the next six years for the CHARS’ programs, and continued financial support thereafter. According to the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, private funding for CHARS has not been received to date, however partnerships will be actively sought.
David Scott, executive director of the Canadian Polar Commission, says the development of CHARS, which is expected to begin construction in late 2014, could increase traffic and funding for existing northern research facilities.
“It’s very good news for Arctic research in Canada,” Scott points out. “It creates new opportunities for researchers who are not currently accessing the North.”
The station will be Canadian built — with a current projected size of between 5, 500 to 8, 500 square meters — but strive to attract more international scientists and researchers. There are currently no projects on the horizon for CHARS, however a science and technology strategic plan is in development. The station is mandated to focus on four main priority areas: resource development, exercising sovereignty, environmental stewardship and climate change, and strong and healthy communities.
“CHARS will be the focal point in research,” says Nick Xenos, director of Arctic Science Policy with the department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. According to Xenos, the station will have a “world-class infrastructure”— including a technology centre, computer laboratories, wet and dry laboratories, a greenhouse and much more — and will be functional year-round, as opposed to most northern facilities that operate primarily in the summer.
“It will focus fresh attention on research infrastructure in the North,” says Michael Goodyear, executive director of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. Goodyear, who is also the co-chair of the Canadian Network of Northern Research Operators, explains the goal is to have a “hub-and-spoke” network, with CHARS being the central point branching out to other Northern research facilities.
“All the northern field stations have been loosely coordinated throughout the years to discuss areas of mutual interest,” says Goodyear, adding the network has been formalized over the past year, but has not been publicly announced yet.
“We really see CHARS as being part of that network,” adds Goodyear. “As we begin to tell the public what that network is and what we contribute, CHARS will play a good coordinating role.”
There are a number of reasons why the community of Cambridge Bay was chosen to house Canada’s newest northern research facility.
“The region is distinct, as far as its environment and ecosystem. It is an area where there wasn’t a great deal of research infrastructure.”
The current Cambridge Bay research facilities at Nunavut Arctic College consist of basic and wet laboratories and are only available during the spring and summer months. Also, according to Xenos, Cambridge Bay is a “regional hub,” and its ocean access and regular flight service from Yellowknife make transportation challenges to the remote northern location a little less daunting, since researchers now have to coordinate their own logistics, such as air transportation to and from a study site.
Government officials and developers have been working closely with local Inuit communities to foster an effective collaboration on various details of CHARS, including the best choice for the site, which is still in the decision-making process, and the temporary use of existing infrastructure, such as the college. The goal of CHARS is to be a bridge between traditional knowledge and science.
“Northerners are being fairly widely consulted on research needs,” says Scott, “and helping to inform the science plan that is being undertaken by CHARS.”